Modification To Florida Class Size Mandate Wins House, Senate votes
Mar 13, 2009
Above: Senator Don Gaetz’s bill to amend class-size caps passed House and Senate Education Committees this week.
A constitutional amendment proposed during the 2009 Legislative Session by Senator Steve Wise (R-Jacksonville) and Senator Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) to modify a 2002 amendment on class-size limits was approved this week by education committees in the House and Senate.
The proposal, which Senator Gaetz says would allow local educators to exercise “common sense flexibility,” will have to garner a three-fifths majority in both chambers and be approved by 60 percent of the state’s voters in the next general election.
The senators’ proposal would require that class size for public schools remain at the current limits, but be based on the average number of students at the school level, rather than on the maximum number of students, who are assigned to each teacher.
In 2002, voters approved a constitutional amendment to cap the number of students in every classroom in the state by the 2010-11 school year. The current requirements allow schools to average the numbers in all classrooms.
Senator Gaetz’ press release is below.
To see the text of Senate Joint Resolution 1828, click here.
March 13, 2009
Sen. Gaetz co-sponsors constitutional amendment to bring “common sense” to inflexible mandate
Should local educators have some flexibility within legal limits in managing the size of public school classes? Or, should the mid-year enrollment of a new student force schools to split classes, hire an additional teacher and create another classroom?
A constitutional amendment proposed by Senator Steve Wise (R-Jacksonville) and Senator Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) would not repeal class limits but would allow local educators to exercise what Gaetz calls “common sense flexibility.”
The proposal was approved this week by education committees in the House and Senate. To become law, Senate Joint Resolution 1828 will have to garner a three-fifths majority in both chambers and be approved by 60 percent of the state’s voters in the next general election.
A constitutional provision adopted by voters in 2002 requires that by the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year, no kindergarten through third grade class in any Florida public school can have more than 18 students. Fourth through eighth grade classes are limited to 22 students. High school core curriculum classes may not contain more than 25 students.
The mandate has been easing into effect over a six year period. Initially, some schools could be slightly over the caps and others slightly under so long as the district averages complied with the constitution. At present, the class limits apply on a school average, allowing one teacher to have 19 second graders in her class and another, 17 students so long as the school complies overall.
Florida taxpayers have paid $13 billion since 2003 to reduce class sizes state-wide. About $10 billion has gone to hire and pay for more teachers, the rest to pay for new classrooms. The annual recurring cost of class size compliance exceeds $2 billion.
Beginning in 2010, any averaging between classes is eliminated and “hard caps” are enforced in every core curriculum class every day in every public school in the state. The Department of Education has estimated that the per-class inflexible limits coming next year will add another $1 billion in recurring costs to an existing $2 billion annual price tag.
“Our proposal does not repeal the class size amendment,” Gaetz explained. “The impact of our bill is to continue current small class sizes and maintain the school average. This will allow educators and parents at the local level to have some flexibility in managing the reality of students coming and going during the year and the need to match students’ learning needs with teachers’ strengths.”
“In some cases the best educational decision is to have 26 or 27 students in one high school class and 22 or 23 in another,” said Gaetz, a former Okaloosa County Superintendent of Schools. “Class sizes should have something to do with the course being taught, the teacher and their instructional approach and the students and their needs. Our bill allows that common sense flexibility and local control.”
The other advantage of continuing to calculate class sizes at a school average is cost avoidance. The Department of Education says inflexible per class limits will add another $1 billion in ongoing costs to a mandate that is already costing at least $2 billion a year. Wise, who chairs the Senate’s Education Appropriations Committee, and Gaetz are concerned that could further strain school budgets.
Parents, school board members, superintendents and teachers have asked the two senators to find some way to provide class size flexibility without repealing the underlying law. Even the state’s teachers union, which pushed through the constitutional change in 2002, acknowledges that the inflexibility of the per class cap will create serious practical problems as well as drain more money out of school budgets at a time when school districts and the state are facing historic revenue shortfalls.
Another ironic factor is that student enrollment in the state is actually declining. There are 40,000 fewer students in Florida public schools than two years ago. That sets up the specter of districts hiring more core curriculum teachers for fewer students while cutting Advanced Placement courses and electives and laying off faculty who teach career education courses, art, music, drama, debate, and athletics as well as school librarians, counselors, and nurses.
Wise and Gaetz don’t want that to happen.
“Our proposal does not repeal class size limits. All the reductions in class size that have been made since 2002 are safeguarded and continued if this bill is passed,” Gaetz said. “But if we do nothing, school districts already facing budget problems will be squeezed still further, educators will be stuck with an inflexible and unrealistic mandate and there will be no allowances for the individual needs of students.”
“Our joint resolution gives the people of Florida the opportunity to decide on a common sense solution,” he explained.
For more information about this or any other issue, please contact Senator Don Gaetz, by e-mail at email@example.com, by letter, 217 Miracle Strip Parkway, SE, Ft. Walton Beach, FL 32548 or call 1-866-450-4DON toll free from anywhere in Florida.